Cardboard Garden Ideas – Tips On Reusing Cardboard For The Garden
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By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
If you have recently moved, there is something fun you can do with all those cardboard boxes besides fill up your recycle bin. Reusing cardboard for the garden provides compostable material, kills pesky weeds and develops a bumper crop of earthworms. Cardboard in the garden will also kill lawn grass and help you get a new bed ready for veggies, ornamentals or whatever you want to grow. Continue reading for more cardboard garden ideas.
Reusing Cardboard for the Garden
When you think about it, cardboard is just a form of paper and comes from a natural source, trees. As a natural source, it will break down and release carbon into the soil. Garden upcycling with cardboard has many more benefits, however. You can use it as planters, to start a garden path, mulch a prepared bed, start a new bed and much more.
It is important what type of cardboard you use in your landscape. Any cardboard that is not heavily printed, has no tape, no shiny finish, is unwaxed and plain brown is considered clean and okay to use. Some tapes will breakdown, such as the brown paper tape with strings through it. Otherwise, keep it simple and only use the basic type of cardboard or you will be pulling tape and plastic finish out of your new areas.
If you are doing a layered or lasagna garden, make sure to moisten the cardboard first before topping it with organic material or mulch. There will be more rapid breakdown when using cardboard in the garden in this manner.
Cardboard Gardening Ideas
If you can think it, it can probably be done. Garden upcycling with cardboard not only repurposes refuse but is useful in many ways. The most common of the cardboard garden ideas is to use it to start a new bed, called sheet mulching. It doesn’t matter if the area has weeds or grass but do remove large rocks and other items you wouldn’t want in a planting space.
Lay the cardboard down on top of the area and moisten well. Use those rocks or any other heavy items to hold the cardboard down to the ground. Keep the area moist. A good time to do this is in fall. By spring you will have killed the weeds and the grass, and the area will be ready to till.
Layered beds will become super rich and nutrient dense if you use cardboard. It is similar to the method above, only you cover the cardboard with mulch or compost. In spring, simply till the area and you will be ready to plant.
Or, perhaps, you are an antsy gardener who wants to get going immediately once temperatures are warmed. Prepare your vegetable beds in fall and then cover them with cardboard to keep weeds from filling the areas.
Other Ways to Use Cardboard in the Garden
Lay cardboard down where you want a path and cover with pavers. Over time, the cardboard will melt into the soil but it will kill any undesirables under the pavers in the meantime.
Shred the cardboard and add it as an important carbon source to your compost bin.
Another idea for reusing cardboard for the garden is to place pieces of it around plants in areas that are prone to weeds. It will reduce weeds drastically and eventually compost into the soil.
For a cute gift idea, have the kids paint smaller cardboard boxes and fill them with soil and colorful flowers. It would make a special gift for grandma or even their teacher.
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Read more about Organic Gardens
How to Suppress Weeds with Cardboard
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It happens to all of us, especially if we get busy.
Weeds can take over after just a few days of not weeding. I’ve discussed the many ways of getting rid of weeds naturally before, but today I wanted to show you how to suppress weeds in your garden with cardboard.
Tips for suppressing weeds with cardboard
Tip #1 Don’t use coloured cardboard as the dyes will end up in your soil
Most coloured cardboard will have toxic dyes that you don’t want in your soil it’s better to use the most plain cardboard you can find. We’ve often used ones with writing on them simply because it’s hard to find plain ones, but steer clear of the fully coloured ones.
**Know someone who’s having problems with a garden infestation? See here for some tips on how to get rid of aphids!**
Tip #2 The cardboard will get slippery and mushy over time so it’s a short-term solution
Even though cardboard can hide the weeds instantly and block out the light to your weeds, it will decompose within a couple of months (you’ll see an accumulation of worms underneath as they love it!). Cardboard is great to use if you’re building a lasagna garden bed (you can see the process of one of ours below) but you’ll still need some mulch over top of it eventually. Be wary after many rainfalls it can be a little slippery too!
Tip #3 Take off the tape from the cardboard
Can I be honest though here? I leave it on until it’s been raining enough times and then rip it off… I’ve found it’s easier to come off that way. You do end up with bits of tape underneath, but I’ve found it easy to remove later in the season. Much easier than taking it off from dry cardboard. But really, yes you want to remove all the tape first, it’s something else you don’t want in your soil.
Related Article: How to weed a garden, don’t let the weed beat you!
Tip #4 Use rocks or mulch over your cardboard so it doesn’t blow away
One gusty wind and your cardboard will blow away, especially if you’re using smaller pieces. We overlap them and add heavy rocks on them before we add the mulch.
Cardboard can be a great quick fix for weed control in your garden and is perfect for lasagna gardening or putting at the base of new raised beds. It won’t give you permanent weed control however so you’ll need to come up with something for the long-term like adding mulch on top of the cardboard.
My name is Isis Loran, creator of the Family Food Garden. I’ve been gardening for over 10 years now and push the limits of our zone 5 climates. I love growing heirlooms & experimenting with hundreds of varieties, season extending, crunchy homesteading and permaculture.
Can I use concrete blocks for garden beds?
Q: What material is best for building a raised garden bed? Are concrete blocks toxic for growing food? – Josephine County
A: First, here is a general article on raised bed gardens from OSU Extension, which mentions them as a possibility.
Second, here is a second Extension article, which says this about concrete blocks: “Cement block, cinder block and concrete block, all are made with cement and fine aggregates such as sand or small stones. Fly ash is also often included. Fly ash is a byproduct of burning coal and so contains heavy metals and other hazardous waste. Labels do not give specific information on exactly what aggregate is used in the manufacture of the block. There is also little research data on this topic. Ultimately, this becomes a personal choice based on your comfort level. If you plan to use block as a raised bed material – and many people do – and you are concerned about potential risks, you could seal the blocks with polymer paint. Or you can choose to use another material. – Kris LaMar, OSU Extension Master Gardener
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As seen in the Davis Enterprise, March 2014
by Katie Hetrick
Stacey Parker lifts some sheet mulch to show the progress she made in kiling her lawn and residual weeds. A new Davis homeowner, she is a horticulturist for the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden.
You hear it on the news. You read it in the papers. Then, there’s that nagging inner voice telling you every time you walk out the front door, “Break up! You’ve got to break up!”
But you ignore it all in favor of making the excuse that you don’t know where to begin and that you might regret it.
Stacey Parker, horticulturist for the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden and a new Davis homeowner, can empathize.
“I completely understand. Lawns are what we’re used to and they’re definitely appealing, but times have changed,” she says. “Having just bought this little house, I’m ready for the adventure of making my yard fit the real situation with the water supply.
“I’m the economizing type anyway, and I’m excited to apply what I’ve learned from working on campus. There are so many great plants out there that are happy with very little water — it just makes sense.”
Sheet mulching steps
There are five steps involved, four active and one inactive:
* Cut your lawn as low as possible
* Add 4 to 6 inches of mulch and
With almost 95 percent of the state remaining in a drought despite recent rains, according to U.S. Drought Monitor reports, and city of Davis water rates rising every year, homeowners are looking to their landscape for help even without “Cash for Grass” programs like the cities of Sacramento and Roseville have offered their residents.
“The thought of lawn removal can be overwhelming,” Parker says. “There are so many ways to achieve the same goal. I don’t think it should be stressful, expensive or complicated.
“At the Arboretum and Public Garden, we’re all about involving the community so I figured why not extend that idea to my front lawn? I’ll make it an educational work in progress!”
Another important landscape component many homeowners consider revamping is their irrigation systems. Quite a variety of options are available, but it isn’t always necessary to change.
“I’m going as low-tech as you can go. I’m leaving my existing sprinkler irrigation system,” Parker says. “While drip is ultimately more efficient, I’m still going to save a bundle by decreasing the amount and frequency that I water based on my plant choices alone.”
As for the variety of lawn removal methods, homeowners can go the chemical route by spraying the grass with herbicides, removing it with sod cutters, solarizing it or sheet mulching over it, just to name a few.
“I’ve decided to utilize the sheet mulching method,” Parker says. “Late winter or early spring is the perfect time to start. Without added water, most California lawns will go dormant in the summer so it’s better to start this process in the spring, when the grasses are alive. The idea is to eliminate your lawn, not to keep it comfy until fall.”
There are five steps involved, four active and one inactive:
* Cut your lawn as low as possible
* Add 4 to 6 inches of mulch and
Sheet mulching with cardboard is an inexpensive way to remove a lawn that does not require chemical application or sheets of plastic. A single layer of cardboard is laid out over the areas of lawn no longer needed. When it eventually breaks down, the cardboard will add carbon back into the soil.
A crack in the cardboard reveals hardy weeds making their way to the sunlight. Extra mulch will solve this issue.
“I recommend using the largest size boxes you can get your hands on,” Parker says. “I used a bunch of bike boxes. I was able to obtain quite a few for no charge after visiting local bike shops. We’re lucky to have a few in the area.
“Dampen the cardboard as it is laid down to protect your layering work from disruption by wind,” Parker advises. “You’ll also want to overlap your edges to prevent weeds and grasses from weaving their way through. They can be quite tenacious.
“My other tip is to remove a border of lawn about six inches wide near your sidewalks. It will allow the cardboard to hug the edges more effectively,” she adds. “I used a pick ax, but you can use a trowel or any sharp tool. The little ditch creates a place for the cardboard and mulch to hunker down to keep your edges neater.”
The next step in the process is to add a layer of 4 to 6 inches of mulch.
“I’m in the process of adding mulch right now. So far I received one delivery and covered as much cardboard as I could, but it’s only about an inch thick. That’s not enough to smother a lawn,” she explains. “The idea is to make it impossible for the grass to see the light of day. I’ll be able to add enough mulch once my next delivery arrives.”
How much mulch homeowners need depends on the area of lawn they want to remove.
“It’s really easy figure out with all the online mulch calculators,” Parker says. “I discovered that lots of tree removal companies will deliver to your house for free.”
Step four is waiting out the spring and summer to make sure your lawn is gone.
“My yard will be neat, just not as green,” Parker says. “I’ve still got to finish the sheet mulching process over the rest of my lawn in the next week or so. Then I’m going to take the spring to improve other areas of my little landscape.
Stacey's lawn now features an assortment of low-water plants for shade. Check out "50 greens for shade."
“Personally, I’m really interested not only in adding low-water plants for shade, but also attracting native wildlife by incorporating plants like the California pipevine.”
Homeowners like Parker who are making changes to their landscapes to save water and be more sustainable are developing what the UC Davis Arboretum has coined “the new front yard.”
For links to information that will help area homeowners in their quest to break up with their lawns, visit our Sustainable Gardening Toolkit to find "Life After Lawn" stories about other homeowners who have made the switch in addition to planting plans, plant lists, pollinator gardening resources and more.